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Pilot training: Multi-crew co-operation

The essence of MCC is to develop teamwork within the cockpit environment

MCC training may come at the end of a student pilot’s training, but as Ian Waller shows, it remains a crucial part of the curriculum

Two crashes, two quite different examples of the crucial role of MCC.

The first happened on 8 January 1989, when Boeing 737-400 crashed onto the embankment of the M1 motorway near Kegworth in Leicestershire. 47 people were killed and 74 others received serious injuries. One of the main causes of the accident was reported to be the captain wrongly shutting down the right-hand engine, believing it to be malfunctioning, despite members of the cabin crew noticing that the left engine appeared to be on fire.

The second accident took place on 19 July 1989 when a Douglas DC-10 suffered an engine failure which appeared to result in a lose of all hydraulic fluid and with it the ability to use the flight controls. The aircraft eventually performed an emergency landed at Sioux City in Iowa, resulting in the loss of 112 of the passengers and crew, and 184 survivors.

What makes these accidents stand out? While one was seen by many experts as a prime example of a lack of MCC, the other showed the value of this crucial element of pilot training.
So what is MCC and how does it fit into the training curriculum of a student pilot?

MCC stands for Multi-Crew Co-operation and is aimed at student pilots who have no previous experience of working as part of a crew and within an airline’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and general practices. 80-90% of a professional pilot training course will take place within a single pilot structure. However, once you start working for an airline, 100% of your flying will be as part of a multi-crew cockpit. This makes the MCC section of your training as crucial as any other pilot skill. The reason that it comes at that stage of the training is that the pilot is required to have successfully passed their IR test prior to embarking on the MCC section of the course.

“The whole essence of MCC is to develop teamwork within the cockpit environment to produce a pilot confident and capable within the multi-crew environment,” explains David Holt, MCCi at Bournemouth Commercial Flight Training. “This introduction to the non-technical skills inherent in the CAA syllabus, immediately following the completion of a student pilot’s intensely technical CPL and Instrument Rating phases, provides a cushioned entry to the world of the airline pilot.”

Jump back three or four decades and the very idea of MCC was unknown, with airlines relying on a clear cockpit hierarchy to decide how things should be done and by whom. Back then, beware the cabin crew who dared venture onto the flight deck to suggest that something may be amiss,
or even the first officer who questioned the decision-making of his captain. However, the need for a more defined crew operating structure became increasingly evident as a result of accidents, such as the ones mentioned earlier, and the advent of more sophisticated aircraft systems.

In addition, as Ian Cooper, Head – Training Development & Resources at Oxford Aviation Academy, points out, it has also enabled the gap between finishing professional pilot training to commencing type training to be minimised significantly. Pilots have to have completed an MCC course before being issued with a type rating for a multi-crew aircraft.

MCC training will be one of the last modules of a student’s professional pilot training, coming after flight training elements such as simply learning to fly a single-engine aeroplane, then moving onto multi-engine and instrument ratings. Being that last core training module, it has been seen by students as something of an add-on, even as a nuisance for newly-trained CPLs who are desperate to get on with the ‘real’ task of being an airline pilot. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

About MCC training

MCC comprises two parts, three days of ground school and 20 hours of simulator training divided into five days of four hours each. Unlike many other parts of the training, the MCC isn’t a pass or fail module, with a certificate issued at the end of the training to say that the student has completed the courses.

The simulator time, meanwhile, will take place in an FNPTII (Flight and Navigational Procedure Trainer) or a full-flight sim, both of which provide a realistic appreciation of the flight deck environment of a multi-crew aircraft. Right from the start of this sim experience, students will behave and react to situations in exactly the same way that they would on the flight deck of a real airliner.

This will mean running through checklists, talking to ATC, ground staff and cabin crew, making announcements to the passengers and operating to SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).
“Standard Operating Procedures are an essential part of every airline’s operations and contribute enormously to flight safety,” explained David Holt. “An inherent feature of SOPs is the correct running of checklists, both normal and abnormal, making them an essential element of MCC training and therefore constituting a large part of it.”

While a high percentage of SOPs will remain the same between one airline and another, different airlines do have different procedures which can encourage an authority gradient within the flight deck. Flying for an overseas airlines may also introduce cultural differences into the
multi-crew dynamic.

As your sim time increases, so will the level of pressure put on you, perhaps with the addition of engine problems, changes in met conditions, engine fires, single-engine running, rapid descents with pressurisation failure – all designed to enhance decision-making, adherence to SOPs and checklist discipline. This will entail both showing decision-making ability and working as part of the larger team.

“We try hard to make it fun and to tease out of the trainees a performance that will enhance their confidence and abilities,” explained David Holt. “The simulator must become your friend in the modern world – so much of the airline pilot’s career depends on a good performance in it. MCC is an ideal facilitator to that end, too.”

One term you will encounter during MCC training is CRM (Crew Resource Management), something that has, on occasion, been thought interchangeable with MCC. This is not the case. Rather CRM is an element of MCC that focuses on the communication and management skills of the individual, as opposed to their piloting abilities, as well as training in the importance of effective co-ordination and two-way communications between all crew members. As Ian Cooper, Head of Training at Oxford Aviation Academy explains, “CRM should reflect the culture of the operator, the scale and scope of the operation, together with associated operating procedures and areas of operation which produce particular difficulties.”

Once students complete their pilot training and earn that most sought-after job with an airline, recurrent training will become a regular part of their career, whether it’s type ratings to fly a different aircraft or keeping CRM skills up to scratch. However, as Tony Storey, the chief MCC instructor for Multiflight, points out, recurrent MCC training is a good idea even for pilot graduates who haven’t yet achieved their first right-hand seat job.

“For qualified pilots looking to keep themselves ready for an airline job, I would recommend that they consider recurrent MCC training to keep their skills right up to scratch. It’s a great way to keep your skills sharp and show airlines that you’ve been involved in something that will have a positive effect on your career. By keeping in touch with your training provider, you should be able to find spare sim slots or even take up any spare places in ongoing MCC courses.”

MCC is a perfect example of how airline training continues to develop, and how elements that were perhaps once considered to have questionable value are now central to developing a student into a quality ATPL.